Senate vote Thursday night sends no-tolls budget bill to Governor

The Sakonnet River Bridge toll gantry. The Sakonnet River Bridge toll gantry.

Sak bridge toll gantrySAKONNET AREA — By a vote of 32-6 Thursday night the Rhode Island Senate approved the $8.2 billion budget bill that included a provision (Article 5) delaying tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge until at least Feb. 1, 2014.

This means there will be no tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge for at least another seven months as a result of action in the General Assembly over the last two days.

On Wednesday the Rhode Island House of Representatives had overwhelmingly approved the delay when it voted 67-4 to approve the budget which it then sent to the Senate.

The Senate vote last night means the budget next heads to Governor Lincoln Chafee for his action, presenting him with a budget bill he’s going to have to veto if he wants bridge users to pay tolls to cross it.

The toll-delaying Article 5 of the Assembly-approved budget bill also creates a nine member Special Legislative Commission that is charged with studying the funding for East Bay bridges and to report its findings on or before Dec.1, 2013.

Timing may play an important role in the ultimate fate of the tolls. Because of the involvement of federal funds in building the bridge, federal regulations govern the issue of tolls after construction of the bridge is considered to be substantially complete.

If tolls have not been instituted before the time of “substantial completion,” federal approval is required in order for tolls to be imposed.

The delay on tolls imposed until Feb.1, 2014 by the General Assembly’s approved budget bill factors into the federal prohibition on tolls that is reached when the bridge construction is considered substantially complete.

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